Lakeland Divorce Attorney
The end of a marriage is painful, challenging and full of questions – but it’s also an opportunity for personal growth and change. While you likely did not come to this decision without plenty of introspection and tears, now that you’ve decided to move forward, it’s important to do so in a thoughtful and dignified way that protects your rights.
That is how our team approaches every single divorce case. At Darla K. Snead, P.L., we understand the complicated and painful emotions at play, and we know that getting through this time is much easier with the right support. No matter what the circumstances of your divorce are or what your priorities are as you leave your marriage, we’ll work tirelessly to help you create the fresh new start you deserve. Call our experienced Lakeland divorce attorney today.
Florida Divorce Process
The process for obtaining a divorce in Florida begins with filing a petition for dissolution of marriage with the clerk of the Polk County Circuit Court, or the Circuit Court of whichever county you happen to live in. To be eligible to file for divorce in Florida, either you or your spouse must have been a Florida resident for at least six months.
The petition should demonstrate the grounds for the divorce and also include whatever relief you are asking for from the court in addition to terminating the marriage, such as child custody or support. Florida recognizes two grounds for divorce: an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (no-fault divorce) or mental incapacity of one of the spouses.
After filing the petition, the petitioner serves a copy of the petition on the other party, known as the respondent. This can be done by personal service (having the sheriff or a process server deliver the papers) or through constructive service if the respondent is out of the state or out of the country, or their whereabouts are unknown. Constructive service includes publishing a notice in appropriate newspapers.
The respondent has 20 days to answer the petition and admit or deny the allegations in the petition and ask for any relief the respondent wants the court to grant. If the respondent doesn’t answer within 20 days, the petitioner can file a motion for default and ask the judge to dissolve the marriage and grant the relief asked for in the petition. It’s therefore important for a petitioner to draft a well-crafted petition and for a respondent to answer in a timely fashion. Even with a default, the judge must still consider what is in the best interest of the child or children.
After the petition and response have been filed, each party will make financial disclosures of their assets and liabilities so the court can adequately address questions related to property division, support and other matters. The judge at this time might issue temporary orders that stay in place while the divorce proceeding is ongoing, such as requiring one party to pay temporary alimony to the other or for the parties to maintain the status quo and not sell off the marital estate or make any unnecessary large purchases. Some Circuit Courts have standing Orders that automatically address issues such as the dissipation of assets. The court may also require the parties to attend mediation prior to allowing a hearing on temporary relief.
If the parties agree on the issues in their divorce, they can prepare a marital settlement agreement and submit it to the court for approval. Lakeland divorce attorney Darla K. Snead can help you create or review an agreement that is fair and meets your needs, either through informal negotiations or voluntary or court-ordered mediation. Attorney Snead has participated in hundreds of mediations and is skilled in conflict resolution.
If the parties still contest one or more issues in their divorce, the case will be headed for trial. The court will entertain motions from the attorneys before and after the trial and will receive evidence and legal arguments before ruling on the outstanding issues. Common issues to resolve in a contested divorce include:
- Property Division – The parties or the court will decide on the equitable distribution of marital assets and debts. The parties must agree or litigate which property is marital and nonmarital, what the value of each asset is, and what kind of division would be fair.
- Spousal Support – Whether one spouse will be ordered to pay alimony to the other and if so, what the amount and duration will be, as well as what type of alimony to order (Florida law recognizes four different forms of spousal support).
- Parenting and Timesharing – The parents decide how to divide up or share in the responsibilities of child-rearing and create a schedule detailing which days the children will live with each parent, the logistics of custodial exchanges, etc.
- Child Support – The parent with the majority of timesharing will typically receive monthly support from the other parent. If the parenting time is equal child support may still be ordered. A parent with a significantly greater income might be ordered to pay child support to even out the child’s standard of living in both households. Courts turn first to the Florida Child Support Guidelines but could be convinced to deviate from the guidelines based on an agreement between the parents or as the outcome of a trial.
Florida Divorce FAQs
Does Florida allow spouses to file for a “no-fault” divorce?
Yes, Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that you can file for divorce for any reason. When you file for a no-fault divorce, you have the option to resolve the terms of your divorce (i.e. property division, spousal support, child support and child custody) through negotiations, mediation, collaborative law or courtroom litigation.
If my spouse and I cannot agree on certain issues, will we need to go to court?
Not necessarily. In many cases, even spouses who are completely at odds are able to overcome their differences amicably. Mediation is required by the court and offers a structured venue for working out differences with the help of a neutral third-party, while the collaborative process also engages the assistance of qualified experts who can help you arrive at a mutually-agreeable resolution.
Does Florida have a “waiting period” to obtain a divorce?
In Florida, the waiting period for obtaining a divorce is just 20 days. However, even when spouses are completely on the same page, it will usually take quite a bit longer to work out all of the terms of a divorce settlement.
How long will my divorce take?
Much depends on the circumstances of your divorce. If you and your ex-partner are in agreement about all the major issues and do not plan on contesting the divorce, your divorce may take about three months. If there are serious issues you are unable to agree on or the divorce is highly contentious, the divorce process could take one year or even longer.
How much will a divorce cost?
Again, divorce costs depend largely on how cooperative the divorcing couple is and how much discovery is conducted by the parties’ attorneys. Discovery may consist of producing documents, subpoenaing records, or taking depositions. If each side hires their own attorney, agrees on important matters without extensive negotiation, or enters into a settlement agreement before or after mediation, the cost will be much lower. If the divorce is contested and a constant battle, both parties’ attorneys will spend many more hours drafting motions, conducting discovery, and preparing for court. This adds many billable hours to each side’s attorney fees and may cost both parties significantly more.
How will I support myself after my divorce?
This question often comes up when helping women who gave up their careers to raise children and take care of the home. If this is your situation, you may be entitled to spousal support or alimony. Sacrifices made for the benefit of the family unit are considered in alimony decisions. Additionally, if one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse throughout the marriage, the spouse who has earned the lesser amount may be entitled to alimony. Florida recognizes various forms of alimony or spousal support, including permanent, durational, bridge the gap and rehabilitative. It is important to have an experienced divorce attorney by your side that can advise you of your rights or obligations.
Will my relationship with my children change after a divorce?
The only constant in life is change, so you should expect some change in your relationship with your children. But this isn’t something to be afraid of. A divorce is a major event in a child’s life, and it takes them time to work through it. If you support their relationship with the other parent, provide emotional support when they are struggling, and maintain their sense of security throughout the divorce, your relationship will likely become even stronger.
How can I protect my assets during a divorce?
First, do not attempt to hide any assets. Some people, in a misguided effort to protect assets from being distributed during a divorce, give them to other family members or sell them at extremely low prices with the intent of getting them back later.
Remember, court officials have seen everything, and they know exactly what to look for if they suspect that an individual is hiding assets. The best thing you can do is connect with a top divorce lawyer in Lakeland. They can fairly evaluate your situation, assess your assets, and come up with a plan to help you keep as many of your assets as possible.
If you try to hide assets from either your attorney or the court, you risk being penalized by the court and losing far more than you would if you were honest and upfront.
What is a parenting plan?
If a marriage produces minor children, the parents will need to create a parenting plan that covers important topics like how time will be split between parents, who will be responsible for different expenses, where holidays are spent, and who provides healthcare coverage.
Both parties can come together in mediation with their divorce attorneys to draft a plan. Mediation is required in all divorce cases and many cases that start off as contested often settle at mediation. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the court can create a parenting plan that it considers to be in the best interests of the child. This is a risky move, since the court’s plan may include aspects that neither party likes but must still abide by.
A comprehensive parenting plan requires communication, compromise, and the prioritization of the child’s best interests. An experienced divorce attorney can help you achieve a parenting plan that will work for your family’s specific needs.
How should I choose a divorce attorney?
Choosing a divorce lawyer may seem overwhelming, but if you know what to look for, you can find the right one by attending initial consultations. Here are some factors to consider while comparing options:
- Ask how many divorce cases they have handled and how much of their time is spent on family law cases. Ideally, you’ll work with an attorney who specializes in one or two areas of law. Choosing a lawyer who works in family law in addition to a dozen other practice areas means that you may not get the most individualized attention.
- Relevant experience. Not only should your attorney have lots of experience in family law, make sure that they are familiar with cases similar to yours. Whether you have an uncontested divorce where you both agree to what you want or a contentious divorce, you do not want your case to be the first time that your attorney has encountered your type of case.
- Consideration of your best interests, not theirs. A skilled divorce attorney will listen to you and consider your best interests in every recommendation that is. Some attorneys approach every divorce as a battle that needs to be won, but that isn’t the best approach for most cases. While some divorces do require that level of aggression, others may be best served by an attorney who is willing to make some compromises to preserve a strong co-parenting relationship. If your attorney repeatedly suggests plans or actions that contradict your goals, they may not be a good fit.
- When you have questions or concerns, will your attorney be available to help you? How often can you contact them? How much guidance will they give you leading up to court dates? An attorney who remains available to their clients is crucial when you’re talking about a personal area of law like family law.
- This relies more on your gut feeling than anything else. Do you feel comfortable talking to your attorney, or do you feel like you cannot be open and honest about your divorce? If you do not naturally trust your lawyer, you will have a hard time allowing them to guide you through a divorce.
- Willingness to explain. Most people have minimal knowledge of their state’s divorce requirements, so any top divorce lawyer in Lakeland should be willing to explain each step of the process to you, answer your questions, and tell you what to expect after each major decision. If you feel rushed or your attorney seems annoyed by your questions, they may not be a good choice.
Contact Our Lakeland Divorce Lawyer Today
If you are contemplating filing for divorce in Polk County, or if you have recently been served with divorce papers by your soon-to-be ex, call Darla K. Snead, P.L. Attorney at Law, to discuss your concerns and what you hope to get out of the divorce. We are here to help you along through this process and see to it that you receive an outcome that meets your needs. Call our experienced Lakeland divorce lawyer today.